Camilla steps around the corner and I hear a little gasp. Crossing my fingers, I step to follow her and gasp myself.
My bride's hands are clasped over her mouth. She is crying, but they are happy, smiling tears. She reaches out and touches the dress, and her face goes soft and dreamy as she caresses the simple chiffon layers that flit like fairy wings along the hem of the tea length dress.
"Ms. Jones," Melanie winks at me. "Will you lock the shop door?"
Camilla is already undressing, entranced by the gown in front of her. I flick the bolt on the door to give her privacy, and move to gather her things and fold them neatly. Melanie lets the dress fall over Camilla's head. It flows like water, hugging but accentuating her small curves, and then she pulls her hair free of the loose bun and lets the waves fall about her face. Then she turns to the mirror.
"Yes," I say. "This is it."
Camilla nods, clearing her throat and wiping away her tears. "It's so simple," she says.
"It's so you," I clarify. Melanie discreetly melts back into the shadows.
"The tabloids are already speculating about my dress," Camilla muses. "They're tossing out all of these names, photoshopping me into these giant, frilly things that make me look like a wedding cake with a head. This? This looks almost...casual."
"Like a day at the beach."
She turns back to the mirror. "It's perfect. I can actually see it now. Standing on the beach with Greg, maybe some fairy lights in the trees?"
I wince a little. Fairy lights are so cliche. "I can see it too," I hedge, and it doesn't involve fairy lights. I am about to share my vision, when she whirls around and impetuously flings her arms around me. "Thank you," she says, her voice catching. "Thank you for knowing what I needed."
I'm momentarily started, but it isn't hard to embrace her back and we clutch each other tightly for a moment. She pulls back, wiping a tear away from where it was dripping from the tip of her nose and laughs again. "Can you do one more thing?"
"Of course," I smile. "I am a full service wedding planner."
She smiles slyly. "Can you give my brother another chance?"
I am in a taxi back to my place when my text alert goes off.
"Cammy told me she found a dress."
My stomach gives a lurch that has nothing to do with the cabbie's erratic driving. Is he happy? Sad? Is this business we're talking about here? Am I supposed to act like the hired wedding planner or the woman who he threw over his shoulder and carried to bed? And should I tell him how much I liked that last part?
I decide to play it safe. "Hi," I reply.
"Hi." He writes back immediately, I'll give him that.
"Yes, she looked beautiful," I type.
There is a long pause and I wonder if he is typing, thinking, or if he's put the phone down and wandered away. I stare at my screen, feeling irrationally angry. Camilla told me to give her brother another chance, but he didn't seem all that interested in making it count.
My stop is coming up, and I irritably tuck my phone back into my purse. I need to change, check in on my mom and then sleep for a year, in that order. But just as I am emerging from the cab, I feel my whole purse start vibrating in my lap, right on top of a very sensitive area. Carter Easton won't seem to let go of his hold on me there, dammit.
I shiver and cross my legs, then grab the phone, ready to hit ignore. But I find myself reading in spite of myself.
"She says she told you about our parents. And that you stood up for her at that snooty place and ended up leading her right to the perfect dress. She also says you're a genius and I'm an idiot for letting you get on that helicopter trying to change your mind. I know things were moving fast, but, maybe that’s ok…"
"Miss? We here? Miss?" The cabbie is pulled over and bleating at me to get out and stop staring at my phone in his back seat. I throw some cash at him without counting it and hurriedly slam to the door. I rush up the stairs of my apartment building and lean in the entryway to read it again.
"You there?" he wrote in the interim.
"I'm here," I type. "Getting out of a cab."
There is another pause. "Are you home?" he writes.
The elevator dings open and the old woman from the floor above me scrapes her walker across the hallway. I greet her as I duck in between the closing doors. "Almost," I type.
"You got an early start today."
"Had a late night too," I type back without thinking.
"Oh?" The question mark hangs there like an accusation and I wonder if he's jumped to some wild conclusion about my sex life. Then the phone vibrates again. "Is everything okay?"
I sag against the elevator wall. I am exhausted, too exhausted to keep getting hit with these emotions over and over again. "Not really," I type, before I can catch myself. Don't drag him into this, I admonish myself. He doesn't need to know your drama.
There is another pause, a long one, long enough for me to open the door to my apartment and fall headfirst into the couch.
Otis's health, my mother's grief, Tricia moving...it's all too damn much. I don't have the mental energy for Carter Easton's paranoid brand of courtship. I can't do this.
But then my phone buzzes again. "Is there any way I can help?" he writes.
I blink. I was expecting the third degree, for him to press and offer platitudes like people usually did in the face of sickness. I wasn't expecting...this.
I sit up on my couch and type. "Can you run all my errands for me? Grocery shopping, visiting, cleaning, cooking, all that?"
He writes back immediately. "Give me a second."
I have to laugh. "You're not even on the same landmass."
I wait. Tricia bangs on the wall. "I hear you texts going off like crazy in there!" she yells. "That'd better be your billionaire, otherwise knock it off!"
I look down at my phone. He's not replying. Gradually my smile fades into a frown. "What the hell was that?" I say out loud.
Padding over to my bedroom, I shimmy out of my work clothes and slip into a T-shirt, jeans and a pair of well-worn ballet flats. Trying to tell myself I am not waiting for a text back, I putter around the room, putting away a few books and hanging up my dress.
The phone is still strangely, heavily silent. "Well fine then," I say to myself. Angrily I shove it into my purse and head to the door.
Money can't buy love, happiness or peace. But it can buy groceries.
My text message alert goes off again.
"I'm not sure :( ." Cammy's use of emoticons drives me crazy.
"Well can you check? Maybe it's in the contract you signed?"
There is a pause and I sit back in my office chair, tapping my pen impatiently. When Cammy texts me back, I grab the phone, my fingers poised to type. "Here it is! :) :) :) 561 Grange St. Apt 6F."
"Do you have a ZIP?"
"No :( . "
I growl a little. "Never mind, I can look it up." I open another tab on the browser window and navigate to Google maps. The little arrow plunks down right in the heart of the city and my heart does this weird palpitation.
"Okay, I'm good, thanks sis."
"Go get 'em tiger. ;) ."
Shaking my head, I set the phone back down and click the order button. Then I choose the time window and pay for the order.
Four PM. I need to be there at four PM.
Standing up from my desk, I stretch a little, rolling my neck from side to side and hearing the pops and twinges. I'm too keyed up. I need to work out if I'm going to have a prayer of making it to the mainland without having a breakdown.
There is a light mist falling, seemingly centered just over Annika Island, but it feels good against my face as I push myself to do wind sprints in the sand. When my heart is ready to burst and my legs are twitchy and weak, I am ready.
Turning to face the mainland, I clear my head, counting backwards from ten and mentally relaxing
each muscle. "I am ready," I remind myself.